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Bathrooms, bars and more: How the Arcada Theatre is renovating during coronavirus pandemic

In his 15 years operating the Arcada Theatre, Ron Onesti has developed a vision for the historic downtown St. Charles venue.

Some upgrades have been requested by customers over the years. Other ideas stemmed from Onesti’s own desire to improve the entertainment experience for his patrons and performers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

With help from the theater’s new owners, he’s now able to bring “every single one” of those concepts to life.

Renovation plans have been ongoing for about nine months, Onesti said, with much of the infrastructure upgrades and other “heavy lifting” completed before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the theater’s temporary closure.

The stay-at-home order, though disappointing from an operational standpoint, has expedited additional work on the venue’s aesthetics, amenities and overall functionality, he said. Most of the improvements are now expected to be finished by July.

“We had no intention of closing at any time during this process, even though it was like running in between raindrops,” he said. “But now if you went in there, you wouldn’t recognize the place.”

  During its temporary closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, owners and operators of the Arcada Theatre have made significant progress on plans to upgrade the downtown St. Charles concert venue. Improvements include upgraded lighting and sound, a refurbished floor and a reconditioned stage, as well as the addition of more bathrooms, a “VIP experience,” an outdoor patio, new bars and an updated HVAC system. – Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Bathrooms are being added throughout the theater, which also has a new HVAC system, sound and lighting upgrades, and increased power. An area on the second floor is being crafted into a “VIP experience.” New bars are being installed, dressing rooms are being refurbished and the stage has been reconditioned.

An outdoor area has been leveled off and turned into a patio. At the Club Arcada Speakeasy, the kitchen is being remodeled and the floors have been redone. The former box office is being transformed into a “Bar-Cada” lounge with a bar and video gambling.

“The (stay-at-home order) has allowed us to kind of step up certain elements of the renovations,” Onesti said. “When this thing is ultimately lifted and people are going to be considering where they’re going to go for their entertainment and restaurant experiences, we’re doing everything we can to make it not only safe and clean and sanitized, but also an experience like they haven’t seen before.”

Some of the most drastic improvements extend beyond the theater itself, he said.

The adjacent storefront at the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue — once a Starbucks and most recently a convenience store — is being repurposed into a “Rock ‘N Za” pizzeria and cafe. The menu will include wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches, salads, desserts, coffee and other “grab-and-go” options for patrons before or after a show, Onesti said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

A new bar is being installed in the main lobby of the Arcada Theatre as part of an ongoing renovation project.

A new bar is being installed in the main lobby of the Arcada Theatre as part of an ongoing renovation project. – Courtesy of Ron Onesti

The former George’s Sport Center just east of the Arcada will become an “upscale yet affordable dining and entertainment experience,” he said, though he’s still trying to pin down a specific theme and other details.

The revitalization of that cluster of downtown properties is being spearheaded by Frontier Development LLC, a local father-son team that purchased the Arcada a year ago with the intention of fixing it up. The company later acquired the George’s Sport property from the city of St. Charles with plans to incorporate the site into the theater renovations.

The relationship between theater management and ownership has been “above stellar,” said Onesti, who has invested much of his own time and effort into addressing maintenance and safety issues at the 94-year-old building. Since Curt and Conrad Hurst bought it, they have been “driving the train for sure,” he said, while still giving Onesti creative control to carry out his vision.

A former box office at the Arcada Theatre is being transformed into a "Bar-Cada" lounge with a bar and video gambling.

A former box office at the Arcada Theatre is being transformed into a “Bar-Cada” lounge with a bar and video gambling. – Courtesy of Ron Onesti

Onesti recently offered a preview of the progress during a walk-through of the theater, which was broadcast live on Facebook. In the roughly 20-minute video, he thanked customers for being patient and “sticking through us during the hard times.”

“By the time we’re ready to open our doors again, we’re going to be a bright, shiny new penny,” Onesti said.

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